By David Stein
“The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.”
“Oh, you bishops ! How will you ever answer to Christ for letting the people carry on so disgracefully and not attending to the duties of your office even for a moment? One can only hope judgment does not strike you.”
I wonder what Martin would write as a preface to his Small Catechism if he were living in the first decade of the 21st century. Re-reading the introduction to Luther’s “brief-bible-summary” as my dear father used to refer to the Small Catechism, I began to reflect on my educational journey through the forming and shaping years. Every morning for an hour, the Stein brothers say at father’s feet before leaving for our various classrooms and the “small catechism” was our agenda for Luther[an]Education. We knew that little book backwards and forwards before we ever qualified for “confirmation instruction.”
The “Luther journey” included Holy Cross Lutheran Elementary school, Ebenezer Elementary school, Lutheran High School Central Saint Louis, Missouri, Saint Paul’s College High School and JC Concordia, Missouri, Saint Louis Theological Seminary plus an internship year at Faith Lutheran Church and School, Los Angeles, California & for more years at Saint Louis University for Masters & Ph.D. degrees with the Jesuits and an ecclesiastical appointment/calling to Concordia University, Chicago, 25 years of formal education that framed out the influences of catholic and apostolic education which I have lived with for 73 years as a child and servant of the reformation.
As I was reflecting on those many years of formal education I thought of that marvelous small “tome” that F.V.N. Painter, A.M., authored and that my generation of seminary students had to purchase from the campus book store – “Luther On Education” – not “Lutheran Education” by Martin Luther. Page after page tells the story that Luther lived through as the reformer. Some of the pages are pretty vivid as Martin argued for the education of children.
For example, “For the right instruction of youth is a matter in which Christ and all the world are concerned. Thereby we are all aided. And consider that great Christian zeal is needed to overcome the silent, secret, and artful machinations of the devil. If we must annually expend large sums on muskets, roads, bridges, dams and the like, in order that the city may have temporal peace and comfort, why should we not apply as much to our poor neglected youth, in order that they may have a skilled schoolmaster or two?”
In his address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, as early as 1520, Luther wrote:”Above all, in schools of all kinds the chief and most common lesson should be the Scriptures, and for young boys the Gospel; and would to God each town had also a girl’s school in which girls might be taught the Gospel for an hour daily, either in German or Latin !”
It is still a small book of questions and answers that has spanned the generations and centuries which unfold the Luther[an] educational methodology – catechistic by design. I have always had trouble with adjectives in teaching journalism and public address. Adjectives often get us into trouble. For example: I have never believed there was such a thing as Lutheran or Catholic or Baptist or Methodist [etc] education. I do believe there can be education in a Lutheran context. I’m still learning that in my years of emeritus service to the church in congregations and the university, the same places that shaped the pedagogy of one named Martin Lutheran.